LANDLORD DILEMMA PART TWO: WHAT I FOUND OUT

In my previous post I told you about a rental problem we were having. Here’s the synopsis: We rented a duplex unit to some roommates. One of the roommates had “some personal problems” and had to go home out of state. I told him we would excuse him. We’ve done that in the past in rare instances when people have emergencies, and he couldn’t very well be renting from us if he had to leave the state. Since the other roommates were staying, I saw no problem. I soon found out that letting this roommate off the hook was not okay with the roommates left. One, we’ll call Pete, called me several times. He said I should not have let “Rob” out of the contract without their consent. I could see his point. He and the other roommate wanted to be careful about who moved in with them and they weren’t happy with the potential replacements Rob was sending over. “Rob signed a contract,” he said. “We wouldn’t have gotten this larger unit if we’d known he was going to do this.” He felt I should call Rob and force him to pay the others. But I’d already told Rob I’d excuse him. I didn’t want to go back on my word.

Well, the situation got worse. I guess Pete and Rob continued to text or call each other and were getting angrier and angrier. In between texting each other, they called me. I felt like a judge in one of those court shows. These two weren’t happy campers. I could see Pete’s concern, but I could see Rob’s’ concern as well. Pete, he felt, could just decide never to get another roommate and expect him to keep paying. I was beginning to wonder if my husband’s part of the business—handling the repairs and accounting wouldn’t actually be easier. What was a right-brained person like me doing in this position? When I got still another phone call, on Friday, my third or fourth in a row, I felt like handing the phone to him. To my relief it was from the dentist’s office.

After I hung up I pulled out the phone book. Time for more investigating. What was the name of that attorney we’d used a couple of times? Maybe his office could give me some information.  I remembered the name (finally) and called. I told the attorney our situation and here’s the rest of the conversation:  (Not the exact wording.)

Attorney: If a contract is entered into, all those who’s signatures are on it need to “agree” to make changes.

Me:  So even though I excused Rob verbally, it really doesn’t mean anything because the others need to agree as well?

Attorney: Correct. You can’t amend a contract or even come up with a new one if all who signed the original contact aren’t in agreement. All parties would have to agree on the new roommate.

Me:  But what is the landlord’s obligation when someone moves out? Sometimes people get a divorce and only one stays. I don’t really feel we can go collect rent from the person who left.

Attorney: It would be up to the person who stays to pay the full amount for the unit. The law says that no matter how many roommates or even family members bail, those who decide to stay in the unit need to pay the full rent. (He gave it a legal term) You charge by the unit and not the person, so even if there were a dozen on the rental agreement and everyone abandoned one person who stayed, that person would be responsible for the full rent.

Me: So it wouldn’t be up to us, the landlords, but up to those who are still living in the apartment to go after the rental portion of those who left?

Attorney:  That’s right.

I called Rob and Pete and told them what I’d found out—that even though I verbally excused Rob, I didn’t really have the legal right to do that. Pete was happy; Rob wasn’t. Pete, however, wasn’t happy when I told them the second part—that he was responsible for the full rent even though one of his roommates had moved out. “Well, Rob’s going to just have to keep paying his portion,” he said.

“I’m sure he’d appreciate it if you could find a roommate soon,” I said. “I doubt he’s going to want to keep paying on a place he’s not living in.”

“I’m mostly concerned about next month,” said Pete, softening. “If he could at least pay his portion of the rent for this next month, that would give us more time to find another roommate.”

When Rob’s mother called upset, I repeated what Pete had said. “I’d just concentrate on next month for now, and then we’ll reevaluate.”

“Okay, but I’m telling him that after that, that’s it,” she said. ”

I could picture Pete’s response and suggested she maybe tone that down.

So the situation isn’t really resolved. I feel bad that these two young men who were such good friends are now enemies. If by March the others haven’t found a new roommate, I’d be tempted to lower the rent with the stipulation that Pete would let Rob off the hook. On the other hand, my husband has wanted to get the rent raised in our units for quite a while.

What would be the best way to handle this? I have the legal information, but now I’m looking for another kind of inspiration on this issue. It’s business, yes, but there are people involved.  The bigger corporation called life overrides all these smaller businesses. How would King Solomon handle this? Should we cut Rob’s rental portion in half? Ha ha ha. Actually, that maybe would not be such a bad of  an idea. It looks like we need to do a little more knee work on this one.

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